Nuclear Catastrophe

Nuclear Catastrophe: Excerpt From “War Is A Lie” By David Swanson

Tad Daley argues in Apocalypse Never: Forging the Path to a Nuclear Weapon-Free World that we can choose to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons or to annihilate all life on earth. There’s not a third way. Here’s why.

As long as nuclear weapons exist, they are likely to proliferate. And as long as they proliferate the rate of proliferation is likely to increase. This is because so long as some states have nuclear weapons, other states will want them. The number of nuclear states has jumped from six to nine since the end of the Cold War. That number is likely to go up, because there are now at least nine places a non-nuclear state can go for access to the technology and materials, and more states now have nuclear neighbors. Other states will choose to develop nuclear energy, despite its many drawbacks, because it will put them closer to developing nuclear weapons should they decide to do so.

As long as nuclear weapons exist, a nuclear catastrophe is likely to happen sooner or later, and the more the weapons have proliferated, the sooner catastrophe will come. There have been dozens if not hundreds of near misses, cases in which accident, confusion, misunderstanding, and/or irrational machismo have nearly destroyed the world.  In 1980, Zbigniew Brzezinski was on his way to wake up President Jimmy Carter to tell him the Soviet Union had launched 220 missiles when he learned that someone had put a war game into the computer system. In 1983 a Soviet Lieutenant Colonel watched his computer tell him the United States had launched missiles. He hesitated responding long enough to discover it was an error. In 1995, Russian President Boris Yeltsin spent eight minutes convinced the United States had launched a nuclear attack. Three minutes before striking back and destroying the world, he learned the launch had been of a weather satellite. Accidents are always more likely than hostile actions. Fifty-six years before terrorists got around to crashing planes into the World Trade Center, the U.S. military accidentally flew its own plane into the Empire State Building. In 2007, six armed U.S. nuclear missiles were accidentally or intentionally declared missing, put on a plane in launch position, and flown across the country. The more near misses the world sees, the more likely we are to see the real launching of a nuclear weapon to which other nations will respond in kind. And all life on the planet will be gone.

This is not a case of “If guns were outlawed, only outlaws would have guns.” The more nations that have nukes, and the more nukes they have, the more likely it is that a terrorist will find a supplier. The fact that nations possess nukes with which to retaliate is no deterrent whatsoever to terrorists who wish to acquire and use them. In fact, only someone willing to commit suicide and bring the rest of the world down at the same time can ever use nuclear weapons at all.

The U.S. policy of possible first-strike is a policy of suicide, a policy that encourages other nations to acquire nukes in defense; it is also a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as is our failure to work for multilateral (not just bi-lateral) disarmament and elimination (not just reduction) of nuclear weapons.

There’s no trade-off to be made in eliminating nuclear weapons, because they do not contribute to our safety. They do not deter terrorist attacks by non-state actors in any way. Nor do they add an iota to our military’s ability to deter nations from attacking us, given the United States’ ability to destroy anything anywhere at any time with non-nuclear weapons. Nukes also don’t win wars, as can be seen from the fact that the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China have all lost wars against non-nuclear powers while possessing nukes. Nor, in the event of global nuclear war, can any outrageous quantity of weaponry protect the United States in any way from apocalypse.

However, the calculation can look very different for smaller nations. North Korea has acquired nuclear weapons and has thereby greatly reduced bellicosity in its direction from the United States. Iran, on the other hand, has not acquired nukes, and is under steady threat. Nukes mean protection to a smaller nation. But the seemingly rational decision to become a nuclear state only increases the likelihood of a coup, or civil war, or war escalation, or mechanical error, or fit of rage somewhere in the world putting an end to us all.

Weapons inspections have been very successful, including in Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion. The problem, in that case, was that the inspections were ignored. Even with the CIA using the inspections as an opportunity to spy and to attempt to instigate a coup, and with the Iraqi government convinced that cooperation would gain it nothing against a nation determined to overthrow it, the inspections still worked. International inspections of all countries, including our own, could work as well. Of course, the United States is used to double standards. It’s OK to check up on all the other countries, just not ours. But we’re also used to living. Daley lays out the choice we have:

“Yes, international inspections here would intrude upon our sovereignty. But detonations of atom bombs here would also intrude upon our sovereignty. The only question is, which of those two intrusions do we find less excruciating.”

The answer is not clear, but it should be.

If we want to be safe from nuclear explosions, we have to be rid of nuclear power plants as well as nuclear missiles and submarines. Ever since President Eisenhower talked about “atoms for peace” we’ve heard about the supposed advantages of nuclear radiation. None of them compete with the disadvantages. A nuclear power plant could very easily be detonated by a terrorist in an act that would make flying an airplane into a building seem almost trivial. Nuclear energy, unlike solar or wind or any other source, requires an evacuation plan, creates terrorist targets and toxic waste that lasts forever and ever, cannot find private insurance or private investors willing to take a risk on it, and must be subsidized by the public treasury. Iran, Israel, and the United States have all bombed nuclear facilities in Iraq. What sane policy would create facilities with so many other problems that are also bombing targets? We don’t need nuclear power.

We may not be able to survive on a planet with nuclear power available anywhere on it. The problem with allowing nations to acquire nuclear power but not nuclear weapons is that the former puts a nation closer to the latter. A nation that feels threatened may believe that nuclear weapons are its only protection, and it may acquire nuclear energy in order to be a step closer to the bomb. But the global bully will see the nuclear energy program as a danger, even if it is legal, and become all the more threatening. This is a cycle that facilitates nuclear proliferation. And we know where that leads.

A giant nuclear arsenal does not protect against terrorism, but a single suicidal killer with a nuclear bomb could begin Armageddon. In May 2010, a man tried to set off a bomb in Times Square, New York City. It was not a nuclear bomb, but it’s conceivable that it could have been since the man’s father had once been in charge of guarding nuclear weapons in Pakistan. In November 2001, Osama bin Laden said

“If the United States dares to attack us with nuclear or chemical weapons, we declare that we will retaliate by using the same kind of weapons. In Japan and other countries where the United States has killed hundreds of thousands of people, the U.S. does not regard their acts as a crime.”

If non-state groups begin to join the list of entities stockpiling nukes, even if everyone except the United States swears not to strike first, the possibility of an accident increases dramatically. And a strike or an accident could easily start an escalation. On October 17, 2007, after President Vladimir Putin of Russia rejected U.S. claims that Iran was developing nuclear weapons, President George W. Bush raised the prospect of “World War III.”  Every time there’s a hurricane or an oil spill, there are lots of I-told-you-so’s. When there’s a nuclear holocaust, there will be nobody left to say “I warned you,” or to hear it.

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